Cunningham's hat trick drives Rapids
Colorado striker Jeff Cunningham earned his hat trick the hard way after having a 66th-minute penalty kick saved, but the Rapids striker still hit for three goals in a game for the first time in his MLS career as the Colorado Rapids extended their winning streak to a modest two games, defeating Chivas USA 3-1 on Saturday night at The Home Depot Center.
Not much has come easy for the Rapids, yet in a season filled with upheaval and disorder, Cunningham and his teammates have plenty of reason to absorb the good vibes of their most successful week to date. Cunningham's hat trick moved into the MLS goal scoring lead, with eight of Colorado's 15 goals, as the Rapids pulled off an L.A. double after playing a third match in eight days.
Colorado's first away victory comes on the heels of a confidence-boosting 1-0 home win against the Los Angeles Galaxy on Wednesday. Six points in the last four days have elevated the Rapids alone into fourth place in the Western Conference, three points clear of Real Salt Lake.
Going up against the league's worst defense in Chivas USA (1-10-3), the Rapids employed Jean Philippe Peguero and Cunningham up front with Luchi Gonzalez manning the left flank. Fernando Clavijo had to reshuffle his midfield from Wednesday's victory after Pablo Mastroeni and Guy Melamed were sent off in that match. Kyle Beckerman was recalled into the first 11 and played ahead of Leo Cullen in managing central midfield while Alain Nkong filled the right wing slot.
The Rapids rearguard of Denton, center backs Mike Petke and Nat Borchers and right back Ricky Lewis were rarely challenged, content in surrendering a few long, harmless shots, but held strong in winning several final balls in the penalty area that Chivas USA may have been able to turn into chances.
The Rapids had dropped into positional defending tactics, allowing Chivas more of the ball but looking to capitalize on Chivas' frequent vulnerability to quick transition play. Finally, the breakthrough came for the Rapids in the 30th minute through their leading goal scorer.
Gonzalez collected a Chivas turnover in its own half, threatened to dribble into the left side of the area before squaring off to Cunningham, who took a settling touch before rifling a 20-yard shot from straightaway into the upper right netting past a diving Guzan.
Chivas, with no shots on frame in the first half, were almost gifted a goal in the 36th minute when Lewis' attempted header clearance from Thiago Martins' right-side cross inadvertently crashed off the crossbar at the back post.
Two minutes later, Colorado could not clear a corner and, amid a scramble for the loose ball, Martins' 13-yard scissors kick was hit well but ran two yards wide of the left post.
Chivas USA's attack further suffered when striker Isaac Romo came off in the last minute of the half with an right hamstring strain. Matt Taylor was substituted in. Then looking for more scoring punch to start the second half, Chivas coach Hans Westerhof took off midfielder Antonio Martinez and put in an extra forward in Arturo Torres.
Taylor almost paid quick dividends for Chivas USA in the 55th minute when he found space between two Rapids defenders to receive Mendoza's pass outside the area on the left. Taylor zeroed in on goal only to poke his 11-yard shot with the outside of his right boot off the bar, beating Rapids 'keeper Joe Cannon on the near side.
In the 58th minute, Cannon controlled a Chivas USA corner and quickly threw out to Nkong, setting him off on a 90-yard run on the right that resulted in a 16-yard point-blank shot that rolled wide of the far post.
Never mind the missed opportunity because Cunningham doubled the score two minutes later. Dribbling in 30 yards from goal, Peguero shed a defender and drew both central defenders as he entered the area on the right before laying off to a suddenly open Cunningham near the penalty spot. He made no mistake in settling and tucking his 10-yard shot past a helpless Guzan.
Cunningham was initially denied a third goal as Guzan slid to his left to land on Cunningham's penalty kick, earned after he was pulled down from behind by Armando Begines after dribbling in alone on goal.
There was still plenty of time for Cunningham to redeem himself against a lazy, porous Chivas rearguard. In the 78th minute, Chivas let him run in behind them to collect a throw-in near midfield from Dan Gargan, who literally just entered the match. Cunningham dribbled in on the left and beat Guzan to the far side from inside the area.
Chivas USA had the last hurrah as Martins pushed a successful 83rd-minute penalty kick inside the right-hand post after Cannon had punched out a cross onto the arm of Lewis inside the box, but there was no mistaking the night belonged to Cunningham.
MLSnet.com Man of the Match: Jeff Cunningham (Colorado Rapids)
Damian Secore is a contributor to MSLnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.
Colorado Rapids (3-8-2) vs. CD Chivas USA (1-9-3)
June 18, 2005 -- The Home Depot Center
COL -- Jeff Cunningham 6 (Luchi Gonzalez 2) 30
COL -- Jeff Cunningham 7 (Jean Philippe Peguero 2) 62
COL -- Jeff Cunningham 8 (Dan Gargan 1) 78
CHV -- Thiago Martins 3 (penalty kick) 83
Colorado Rapids -- Joe Cannon, Ricky Lewis (Amir Lowery 90), Nat Borchers, Mike Petke, Eric Denton, Alain Nkong, Kyle Beckerman, Leo Cullen, Luchi Gonzalez (Dan Gargan 78), Jeff Cunningham (Wolde Harris 82), Jean Philippe Peguero.
Substitutes Not Used: Byron Foss, Ritchie Kotschau.
TOTAL SHOTS: 13 (Jeff Cunningham 6); SHOTS ON GOAL: 6 (Jeff Cunningham 4); FOULS: 22 (Mike Petke 5); OFFSIDES: 0; CORNER KICKS: 4 (Eric Denton 3); SAVES: 0
CD Chivas USA -- Brad Guzan, Ezra Hendrickson, Douglas Sequeira, Armando Begines, Jesus Ochoa (Ryan Suarez 60), Hector Cuadros, Antonio Martinez (Arturo Torres 46), Ramon Ramirez, Francisco Mendoza, Thiago Martins, Isaac Romo.
Substitutes Not Used: Esteban Arias, Francisco Gomez, Orlando Perez, Martin Zuniga.
TOTAL SHOTS: 11 (Thiago Martins 5); SHOTS ON GOAL: 1 (Thiago Martins 1); FOULS: 12 (4 tied with 2); OFFSIDES: 1 (Douglas Sequeira 1); CORNER KICKS: 5 (Ramon Ramirez 3); SAVES: 3 (Brad Guzan 3)
COL -- Kyle Beckerman (caution; Pushing, Holding) 40
CHV -- Armando Begines (caution; Pushing, Holding) 65
COL -- Ricky Lewis (caution; Deliberate Handball) 83
Referee: Terry Vaughn
Referee's Assistants: -Greg Barkey; Emiliano Monje
4th Official: Jorge Reyes
All Statistics contained in this boxscore are unofficial.